By Hlengiwe Radebe
As the disastrous effects of climate change become more apparent, there is a rising realisation that we must abandon fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy sources.
In the South African context, our current electrical supply is primarily reliant on fossil fuels, mainly coal.
Continuing to invest in coal involves its own set of concerns, including climate change, air pollution, and diminished competitiveness due to high carbon content, which could result in border tariffs and impede the country's capacity to raise funding.
While it is obvious that transitioning to renewable energy is not only environmentally responsible but also economically wise, the move to renewable energy will enhance the lives of those who have been impacted for years.
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As a result, the transition to 100% renewable energy must achieve energy equity, energy security, socio-economic sustainability and environmental sustainability.
South Africa would need to dramatically increase its renewable energy capacity to meet the target of 100% renewable energy. This would entail the development of new wind farms, solar power plants, and other renewable energy infrastructure.
Furthermore, meticulous planning and strategic expenditures are required. The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is critical in determining where energy technologies should be derived from in order to fulfil demand.
According to the Presidential Climate Commission, the updated IRP should prioritise the deployment of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, supplemented by storage batteries and pumped hydro plants, as well as the expansion of the transmission infrastructure.
To accommodate the changing nature of renewable energy sources and maintain a steady and consistent electricity supply, the present grid system would need to be upgraded and modernised. If properly managed, these technologies can provide a secure and cost-effective solution.
One of the most compelling justifications for embracing renewable energy is its potential to cut costs, both financial and environmental. In recent years, renewable energy technologies have made tremendous advances, making them more viable solutions for South Africa's energy demands.
Since 2008, the costs of utility-scale solar photovoltaic and onshore wind energy have decreased by more than 60% and 40%, respectively. Along with the deployment of renewable energy, it is critical to implement energy efficiency measures in order to minimize overall energy consumption.
Promoting energy-efficient practices and technologies can aid in optimizing energy use and reduce load on the power grid. As a result of their lowering costs and improving efficiency, renewable energy technologies are becoming appealing alternatives for South Africa's energy transformation.
Finally, money is required for the transition. A lot of money; money that South Africa lacks. As a result, financing the transition to renewable energy is a vital aspect in ensuring that the country runs entirely on renewable energy.
According to the PCC research, finance markets are becoming increasingly concerned about climate change and are less inclined to lend investment to companies that are not linked with the climate transition.
Lenders and banks in South Africa are increasingly enacting policies that limit investment in new coal and gas projects. As a result, the necessity to prioritise renewable energy sources and attract advantageous funding terms is reinforced.
South Africa has the potential to reach a 100% renewable energy future, but it will take a comprehensive and coordinated effort on the part of the government, private sector, and society as a whole.
Renewable energy will not only assist to combat climate change, but it will also generate economic opportunities, create jobs, and enhance energy access for all South Africans. With the right policies, investments, and international cooperation, the country can harness its abundant renewable energy resources.
But when is this likely to happen?
A variety of things come into play.
Long-term electricity storage technologies, for example, will need to become more economical and feasible so that when weather conditions are unfavourable, battery storage can be used to draw power.
The current investments in the fossil fuel industry that are related to people's livelihoods necessitate a thoughtful and well-thought-out transition that does not leave anyone behind.
And, when these factors, among others, are taken into account, 2050 becomes a more feasible timescale, especially considering the time remaining to decommission existing coal and nuclear plants. In addition, the life of current coal and nuclear plants lifetime should not be extended and there should be no new investments.
* Radebe is a Civil Society and Youth Engagement Officer with WWF South Africa.